January 2017
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Everyday, Everyway

You know what else I need to reread? A whole bunch of books by Dorothy Dunnett: the Lymond Chronicles, the House of Niccolo, and maybe King Hereafter too.

I could spend all of 2015 rereading. I won’t though.

Wrapped Up In Books

My last haul from the Harvard Book Store.

My last haul from the Harvard Book Store,which is, along with the Brattle Book Shop one of my favorite places in Boston .

The reading list for 2014, over there on the left, has finally been updated. In case you wondering when I was going to get around to it, which you probably weren’t.

While whittling away at my to-be-read pile, now somewhere north of 200 again, I’ve thinking about re-reading.  It’s not something I’ve done a lot of since accumulating monstrous piles of books at home because hey, embarrassment of riches here, but there books, or to be accurate series of books, I’d like to revisit. Namely:

  • The Lord of the Rings – I haven’t reread this in about ten years, so I’m about due.
  • The Sherlock Holmes canon –  I own the lovely annotated editions edited by Leslie Klinger and something about the fall and winter makes the thought of immersing myself on Holmes’ world very appealing.
  • Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series –  I’ve never read all of them in one go, from start to finish and in order. Why not now?
  • Anthony Price’s David Audley books – Because they’re captivating and I’ve only read them once. You should track them down (they’re not currently in print) and read them too. One day I’ll write a post explaining why, or at least why they appealed so much to me.

Radio Song

I always thought the notion of desert island discs, records you would take with you if forced to a desert island, was a parlor game turned internet meme. Not so the internet told me, it’s actually a 70 year old radio show airing on BBC Radio 4. The  format is this: a person of note – a musician, writer, actor, director, politician, someone well known  in their field – is interviewed by the host, during which they select eight records, one book, and one luxury, to take with them to the hypothetical island. (They are  also given the works of Shakespeare and the Bible).

Anyway, the point is the archive for Desert Island Discs is available on line and it’s a treasure trove. Shows are available to stream or download as an mp3 file.  Many of the older shows are unavailable, because they were broadcast live and not recorded, or the recordings were lost or damaged, but there is plenty to occupy your time, from Olivia Manning to Morrissey to Andy McNab. Great stuff there, highly recommended.

Pop Art Poem

Graffiti observed on the wall of the men’s room at the Coolidge Corner Theatre.

Straight To My Head

This brief bit of nostalgia originally appeared on Obscurorant 1.0 in January of 2005 and is probably the beginning of the conceit of the Broadcast Kid. It is a conceit I feel more strongly when I watch my childrens’ reactions to what we call ‘regular TV’ – namely puzzlement that it can’t be paused and annoyance at the interruptions of commercials.

I have lightly edited this updated version.

Not surprisingly, there are those who are startled by my lack of exposure to Little House on the Prairie. Let me explain by simply saying that I was a Channel 56 kid.

Channel 56 was the main UHF channel in the greater Boston area. During the late 70s and early 80s this station provided three vital services for children of my generation….

1. After School Cartoons – In those days every TV station (or so it seemed) played cartoons on Saturday morning, but channel 56 was your destination for weekday afternoon cartoons. Sure, they were lame cartoons, like Mighty Mouse, but at least you’d get your cartoon fix, to hold you over until the sacred hours of Saturday AM.

2. Creature Double Feature – All the Japanese monster movies you could ever ask for, from Attack of the Mushroom People to Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla. I loved these movies, adored them, and a showing of a film like Destroy All Monsters, which featured ALL the noteworthy monsters (Rodan, Mothra, King Ghidorah) was an occasion for much rejoicing. Create Double Feature also introduced me to Giant Robot, the patron saint of this blog.

(Special geek note: I was so enamored of these films, that when none were available I’d ‘create’ my own by drawing elaborate scenes of battle between Godzilla and a variety of opponents.)

3. Syndication Central – Channel 56 was were old shows went to live on in eternal syndication. The main reason I never saw Little House is that it wasn’t on Channel 56. However, I did spend endless hours watching the following shows:

Happy Days: I think I saw every single one, from the season with Richie’s big brother who mysteriously vanished to Richie’s wedding via phone. I preferred the original Arnold.

Laverne and Shirley: my all-time favorite sitcom. I still cannot believe that Milly-wah-kay does not have a museum or something dedicated to this show. I still love the patented Lenny and Squiggy entrance, when somebody mentions something squalid or disgusting, the door pops open, “Hello!”  Off the top of my head, I only know the first verse of the Laverne and Shirley theme song.

Alice: Did Alice have a theme song? I can’t remember.

Facts of Life: I liked the original cast, which included Molly Ringwald. I pretty much lost interest when the focus shifted entirely to Blair, Jo, Tootie and the other girl. As a result of this program, I still think chicks in plaid skirts are hot. (90s fashion also helped in this regard.) I doubt TV warped my moral compass, but it definitely did something to me.

Good Times: I still know the theme song to this show by heart. I may just sing it to you after a few beers.

Three’s Company: Is this not the stupidest show ever? Yet I tuned in, repeatedly. To watch endless variations of the exact same plot: somebody overhears something, mistakenly assigns a sexual meaning to what is overheard, hilarity ensues, John Ritter does a pratfall at some point. Roll credits.

Brutal Hearts

This post originally appeared on Obscurorant 2.0 in July of 2008.  AS of this second posting, the Wild Geese can be streamed through Netflix Instant. Cinematic delight awaits you, dear reader.

This may be the first of a series, but for now it should suffice to say that The Wild Geese is a bad movie and I love it. Although perhaps the term ‘bad movie’ is a bit unfair. The Wild Geese succeeds in its goal, which is to entertain the hell out of you with lots of explosions, near-misses and hairs-breadth escapes. According to the internets, Euan Lloyd, the movie’s producer wanted to make an adventure fill with an all-star cast, like The Guns of Navarone, and The Wild Geese works perfectly well on that level. Truth-to-tell, I prefer Geese to Guns, thought that may just be nostalgia.

Is the cast ‘all star?’ Well, I guess Richard Burton, Roger Moore, Richard Harris and Hardy Kruger were considered stars in 1978, but you’re not going to see any deep or multi-layered performances here. The characters they play are all pretty cardboard – more on this later.

Without giving too much away, the plot is essentially this: a group of mercenaries are hired to execute a mission in a fictional African nation under dictatorial rule. On the verge of complete success they are betrayed and stranded deep in enemy territory, giving The Wild Geese shades of Anabasis, as well as echoes of The Dogs of War and real-life events.

I first encountered this movie courtesy of Channel 56, which aired The Wild Geese annually on The Eight O’Clock Movie*, but it dropped completely off my radar during my college years and remained that way until two years ago, when I came across a DVD edition of the film. Naturally I bought said DVD and watched it the same day. My conclusion: The Wild Geese holds up as an adventure film. Sure the effects for explosions and such are dated, but that kind of adds to the old-school non-CGI charm of the film. And there’s plenty of buckles to be swashed and derring-do, as one would expect. But there were a couple of other things I noticed after watching the movie for the first time in twenty-odd years.

While The Wild Geese essentially has the soul of a solid B-movie, focusing on thrills and heroics, there are parts where a rather brutal strain comes to the surface. I don’t recall the heroes in Guns of Navarone shooting their wounded rather letting them fall into enemy hands, but it’s done here. Plus there’s the unusual execution of a drug-dealer, and an overall high body count.

Then there’s the gay character, who is really, you know, gay. Positively swishy. Which isn’t necessary a criticism – every character in the movie was pretty much a stereotype right from central casting. You get your dependable and grizzled noncom, you get your flamboyantly gay dude and so on. What struck me was the fact that character’s sexuality, unlike some more recent films, was not played up as a source of laughs or comedy, or the reason the character was less tough or capable than the other mercenaries. Hell, this particular character even got to play the hero in an old-fashioned ‘manly man’ sort of way, which I thought was an interesting attitude for a movie of this type made way back on the 70′s to take. A little bit of enlightened thinking with the explosions if you will.

Anyway, you can see the trailer here.

*The late, lamented Eight O’Clock Movie I should add. The program was obviously aimed at adults looking to fill the time between dinner and the news, but along with Channel 38′s Movie Loft, the Eight O’Clock Movie provided the adolescent me with a cinematic education, albeit a blinkered one, since the lineup of films consisted almost entirely of genre films, ranging from Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns to bad comedies. This would probably explain why I remained largely ignorant of classic films like Casablanca until I reached college.

New Slang

Since I was recently gifted a lifetime membership by LibraryThing, I went and cataloged all my books, or at least the 633 of them on the premises (there are others lurking in my Dad’s attic).

A Fine Romance

I haven’t made a lot of wise decisions in my life, but asking Herself to marry me was undoubtedly one of them.

Happy Valentine’s Day Best Beloved. I am madly in love with you.

N.B. – the photo was taken by Black Thumb Studios. You should hire them.

The Life and Times of the Broadcast Kid: The Woods

The following was originally posted in June of 2007 and appears here thanks to the Wayback Machine. I now have two kids of my own and think about things like this even more often.

If I were to write a memoir of my childhood I would shamelessly ripoff Bill Bryson and title it The Life and Times of the Broadcast Kid. I belong to the last generation to come of age before digital stream of ones and two and cable connections brought tsunamis of pop culture into every American household. I was raised by Mom and Dad, Channel 56, and Top 40 radio and this is what separates my generations from those that followed:the lack of media,be it songs, TV shows or movies, on demand, round-the-clock, whenever you wanted it. If we wanted to be entertained by outside agents we were at the mercy of the broadcast, of network TV and the local DJs. And so we had a lot of time on our hands, and the freedom to go with it; a way of growing up that I think has probably vanished from the United States,or so it seems it me.

I am not a Luddite by any means, nor do I wish to indulge in pointless nostalgia about ‘the good old days.’ I’m very happy to be alive when and where I am today. I love my DVDs and CDs, my iPod, my DSL, Netflix and the endless flow of information and entertainment at my fingertips. But I wouldn’t trade my childhood, and the vanished customs and mores of that world, for anything, and I can’t help thinking, however presumptious it may be, that the children of later generations missed out on a good thing.

I grew up in a sleepy town in southern Massachusetts. Which town is unimportant, save to note that if you went south for a while on Route 24 and then turned west you could find it. Or the remainders of it –the town has changed a great deal in the last 25 years and the remote bedroom community of my youth has evolved into constantly growing cancer of strip malls, developments and McMansions.

But when I was young it really was a sleepy town, cliche aside, the kind of place that a restless kid like the one I was to become couldn’t wait to leave and venture out into the wide wild world. In my earliest memories I can recall walking up the street to sit on a weathered stonewall and look at the grazing cows. Going to McDonalds involved a drive into the next town and as improbable as it may sound (for a New England town) I don’t recall a Dunkin Donuts close by until I was in high school. I lived in a neighborhood where many folks never locked their front doors; it wasn’t until I was a freshman in college that I needed, or owned, a key that allowed me to reach my bed,and as a teenager if my friends were looking for me on a Saturday morning they simply came in the house, went upstairs,and shook me awake. My hometown was a staid mix of Swamp Yankees, Irish,and Swedes, plus a whole lot of rocks and fields.

And of course there was the Woods. As I kid I divided my immediate world into two spheres: streets with houses and such, and the Woods. Obviously the town consisted of much more that, but when you’re seven years old concepts like ‘maps’ and ‘geography’ might as well be quantum physics. You go with what you know, and if what you know is that every kid you’re friends with has the Woods behind their house or within a five minute walk,and that you can cut through the Woods to get to anywhere of note, well, the world must consist of streets –where we lived –and the Woods –where we played.

The Woods was nearly synonymous with ‘outside.’ Outside was where your parents told you to go when they needed you out of their hair or simply decided you’d been reading too long, and when you went outside you went to the Woods. And there you did pretty much whatever you wanted until the sun went down, or the dinner bell rang, and it was time to return. The Big Rock was good for making a fort, and the Castle loomed large in any game, whether it was Cops n’Robbers, Middle Earth, Creatures or any of the other imaginary games we made up in the Woods. The Woods was where you fished in the summer and skated in the winter. The Woods was pocket knives and matches. The Woods was freedom, freedom from rules, school, chores, baths, and anything resembling adult supervision. All together I probably spent as much time running the Woods as I did sitting in class. We disappeared for hours upon hours into the Woods and our parents were probably happy for the peace and quiet this gave them.

Begin The Beguine

Although nobody but my sister (Hi Meg!) noticed, Obscurorant 2.0 vanished  this past October, victim of a behind-the-scenes database update by my hosting service.  Lacking the time to puzzle out an actual  solution, I resorted to re-installing wordpress which croaked the seven years worth of material formerly residing here, and somehow taking Obscurorant 1.0 down as well.

And yet here I am.  See you around.